WOHS alumna pens coloring book to teach financial literacy

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Coloring books are a way to relax while still being creative, and former West Orange resident Kiara McClendon decided they would be a good way to teach young people about money management. With “The Adventures of the Money Mavens,” the first volume in a series of coloring books that she launched this month, McClendon is hoping to teach children ages 12 and younger how to budget, save money and learn about finance. Instead of a step-by-step guide to learning about money, McClendon thought an activity book would be a better approach.

“We as people really need to be discussing finance with children,” she said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Oct. 19. “You need to know what it means to budget, and I think public schools could do more to prepare students for that part of adulthood — especially sometimes when kids who are 13 or 14 years old start to get their first jobs without knowing how to budget.”

McClendon grew up in Montclair before moving to West Orange in seventh grade; she attended Roosevelt Middle School and West Orange High School, graduating in 2010. In her younger years, McClendon said her elementary school teachers gave her a basic understanding of finance and that this knowledge helped prepare her for adulthood. She just wishes she had been given financial information throughout her schooling.

“When I got older I thought that was a good foundation, but if it had gone all the way through school, I would have been better prepared,” she said.

McClendon teamed up with illustrator Troy Lopes to create the book, which features coloring pages, games and activities that students can complete with their parents for a hands-on approach to discussing money.

“It’s interactive, they can do it with other people,” McClendon said. “That format works better with a hands-on application. I remember going through all of these questions about budgeting and saving money when I got my first full-time job and I wanted to think of a way to make this fun.”

McClendon worked with Lopes for six months before self-publishing the book, and there is also a Spanish edition in order to reach a wider audience. McLendon also made sure to include characters in the book of all different races, types of families and backgrounds to ensure all students relate to and see themselves represented in it.

McClendon, who works as a university administrator, credits Jay Wecht, her middle school English teacher at RMS, with inspiring her to explore art and writing.

“He really embraced that and showed me what I could do in that area,” she said of the teacher.

Now that “The Adventures of the Money Mavens” is out in the world, McClendon plans to turn it into a series. She’s working on a comic book geared toward an older audience that teaches the same financial literacy lessons. For now, she wants to reach as many young people as possible.

“It’s all types of sensory experiences; it’s an art piece as well,” McClendon said. “Coloring can be relaxing for anyone. I think it’s so much more than a coloring book.”

Photos Courtesy of Kiara McClendon